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What's in a Name?One question that seems to come up over and over again is whether it’s best to use one’s own name for a new business or website or create a separate business name and identity.

While it may seem this question is only applicable for those who are launching a new business, I actually get asked this question all the time by people who’ve been running their own business for years… usually when it comes time to purchase a domain name for their business website.

So, what’s the answer? If your name is Mary Wannaname and you’re setting up a private psychotherapy practice in Sacramento, California, should you go with:

MaryWannaname.com

or

SacramentoPsychotherapy.com

Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of each approach… However, I should warn you before we get started that there isn’t a right or wrong answer.

Benefits of Using Your Name

As a professional and someone who’s looking to position yourself as an expert in your field, your primary assets are your knowledge, personality, and experience. In other words, whether you’re providing a product or service – especially if you’re providing a professional service – what people are purchasing is YOU.

That being the case, it only makes sense to place yourself at the forefront of all you do.

I say this while fully admitting that I’ve struggled with this in the past. It can seem easier, and even more professional, to stand behind a business or corporate identity… especially when you’re just starting out. But, no matter what we sell or to whom, our businesses and practices are built on our relationships with our clients. And those relationships start and end with each of us as individuals.

So, I now use Sean Armstrong or Sean Eric Armstrong for my blog, my social media properties, and even in front of the names of other businesses I own and operate (unless I’m involved in a partnership with someone else).

My name is my brand.

This means that when I give a presentation or write a blog post or article for a website or trade journal, people who find the content valuable associate that value with my name, Sean Armstrong or Sean Eric Armstrong. And, that impression of value will stay with them when they come to my blog, SeanEricArmstrong.com.

In other words, if you’re building value around your name (writing articles or books, giving presentations, or providing personal consultations, coaching, or other professional services), that value is most effectively transferred to your business or practice if your business or practice uses the same name.

When I write special reports and eBooks, more value flows to the name Sean Armstrong. When I speak at events, more value flows to the name Sean Eric Armstrong.

And, that value gets associated with SeanEricArmstrong.com.

If I’m going to invest a lot of time and energy creating value for my name, it would be a shame to call my website MarketingCoach.com or something similar, because the value associated with my name isn’t automatically captured by this domain name.

The same thing holds true with social media.

On LinkedIn, I am SeanEricArmstrong. On Facebook, I am SeanEricArmstrong. On Twitter, I am SEArmstrong (unfortunately, my full name is too long for Twitter).

As with all forms of marketing, social networking is about creating relationships. And you do this by being yourself. It may seem obvious, but social media is much more social when using your own name and photograph as opposed to a business name and logo. Who wants to talk with a logo?!?

But, even if you have no intention of getting involved with social media, the benefits of using your name for your business remain.

The easiest way to get more clients is to build win-win relationships with your current clients, with prospective clients, and with referral sources. And it’s much easier to establish emotional connections, rapport, and trust by being yourself.

Disadvantages of Using Your Name

The major hurdle to overcome in using your own name for your business is that you need to be comfortable doing so. In other words, you need to feel okay putting your name, your photo, and yourself out there (on your business cards, websites, social media profiles, etc.) and associate it with everything you do.

This can be especially difficult when you’re just getting started.

When you first open your practice doors or launch your business, it’s unlikely that many people will have heard of you. It can be emotionally and psychologically challenging to stand in front of a prospective client and say, “Hi, I’m Mary Wannaname and I’m one of the best psychotherapists in Sacramento.” And it’s not always easy to say such things with confidence.

Using your own name for your practice or business comes with any and all of the insecurities you may have about yourself. This should cause little concern if you’re wildly confident. But few of us are.

So, if you’re going to use your own name for your business or practice, you should be prepared to put in the extra effort necessary to establish your value and credibility to get those first clients and the fee you deserve.

Of course, as time goes on, more and more value will accrue to your name.

So, it isn’t that using your own name for your business is a major hurdle or disadvantage. It’s just that it may make starting out more difficult.

Benefits of Creating a Separate Business Name

Unless you’re setting up a business with other partners or owners – in which case you’ll likely need to create a separate legal entity and business name – the biggest benefit of creating a separate business name comes from alleviating the biggest drawback of using your own name. Using a name other than your own for your business or practice can provide a sense of confidence where one doesn’t already exist.

Continuing with the previous example of just starting out, instead of saying, “Hi, my name is Mary Wannaname and I’m one of the best psychotherapists in Sacramento,” imagine saying, “Hi, my name is Mary Wannaname from Sacramento Psychotherapy, LLC, or of SacramentoPsychotherapy.com.”

Now you have a business name between your prospective client or referral source and yourself. It’s no longer just about you. This can be a source of confidence, or at least lessen a lack of confidence.

And, if providing psychotherapy services is all you plan on doing, the name Sacramento Psychotherapy, LLC, and the domain name SacramentoPsychotherapy.com can help impart some value and credibility that make it easier to attract clients and negotiate decent fees for your work. I know it may seem weird, but it’s true.

Additionally, I’m often asked about the benefits of creating and using a domain name such as SacramentoPsychotherapy.com in order to get better visibility in Google and the other search engines.

While it was once true that domain names that closely or exactly matched search phrases being entered into Google would achieve better search engine rankings for those phrases, the benefit of such “exact match domains” has been steadily decreasing. And Google has announced its intention to further diminish the importance of such “exact match” domain names to search engine rankings.

So, while there may have been a benefit to buying exact match domains in the past, this is no longer the case. And, more importantly, creating a business name simply to please Google – or doing anything that makes your business reliant on any other business for success – isn’t much of a business plan. You’re in business to serve your clients, not the search engines.

I include this here not because using such a domain name is a disadvantage. There are other reasons to create a business with a name such as Sacramento Psychotherapy, LLC, and register the corresponding domain name. Just be aware that using such a domain name does not provide the search engine advantage many people think.

Disadvantages of Using a Separate Business Name

We’ve pretty much gone over these…

If you’re putting a business name between your prospective client or referral source and yourself, you’re creating an artificial barrier in your business relationships that makes those relationships less personal.

And, if your value comes from your knowledge, personality, and experience, it’s more difficult for people to associate that value with your business if your business doesn’t use the same name.

In other words, when you create and use a separate name for your business the value of your individual reputation doesn’t immediately transfer and accrue to your website and business.

A Possible Compromise

Achieving the best of both worlds – gaining the confidence, credibility, and initial value of using a separate business name while still being able to reap the rewards of the value that accrues to your own name over time – isn’t easy, but it can be done.

If you want to create a business name like Sacramento Psychotherapy and use an associated domain name like SacramentoPsychotherapy.com, be sure to still place yourself at the forefront (use your own name and photo on your website, brochures, social networking sites, etc.).

As time goes on, you can adjust the balance between how you use your own name and your business name to suit your comfort level and needs. For example, you might begin by emphasizing your business name and then, as you become more widely known in your community and your confidence increases, you can bring your own name to the fore by doing things like changing your website’s banner or masthead image to read “Mary Wannaname’s Sacramento Psychotherapy” instead of just “Sacramento Psychotherapy.”

In Conclusion

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, no answer is right or wrong for every business owner.

Consider the pluses and minuses, the business you’re in, what your clients want, and what makes you feel most comfortable. And, if it makes sense, start out with both a unique name for your business as well as using your own name and then adjust the balance between the two as time passes or register both names and build them simultaneously.

I hope this helps you choose which route to a business name is best for you. If so, let us know what name you choose by leaving a comment in the TMI forum or by leaving a comment below this article.

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